December 23, 2008



Shelly Andersen, New Student Services, 657-2888
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Thanks to the University Connections program, student starts full-time college career with 32 credits under her belt


Jessica Leuthold

MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — When Jessica Leuthold begins her college career at Montana State University Billings as a full-time student this month, she’ll do so with 32 credits under her belt.


And the best part is she didn’t have to give up anything with her high school life, her family life or her very active schedule to get those credits. She did it right here in Billings. And she did it for $100 a credit.


Thanks to the University Connections program at MSU Billings, Leuthold essentially finished her first year of college while she was still in high school. She graduated from West High in May, finished up her Connections last summer and will start as a full-time college student in mid-January.


“I got to jump right into it in high school,” said Leuthold.  “It gave me a good taste of what college was going to be like.”


The program was set up by MSU Billings to give high school students the opportunity get some college classes and credits completed while they are still in high school at and home.  Students can take classes in biology, English, math, psychology, history, art and a host of other programs that will satisfy requirements for their general education core. Because the university finances the scholarships for the program, students can take classes for only $100 per credit.


 Between 50 and 60 students take advantage of the program each semester, said Becky Lyons, the university’s advising specialist for University Connections. Most of the students come from Billings, but some take advantage of the program from as far away as Missoula, enrolling in online classes.


“It was very cost effective for us,” said the 19-year-old, whose mother is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her three siblings and whose father is a financial consultant.


Friendly and energetic, Leuthold has an active life. She works at a West End Billings retail store and does volunteer work for at St. Vincent Healthcare. In fact it was her involvement with St. Vincent — as a patient not as a volunteer — that kept her from enrolling as a college sophomore last fall.


Early in the summer, Leuthold wrecked her mountain bike and suffered a concussion. She went through rehabilitation this summer and is now ready to begin her college career. She plans to major in public relations.


While the reduced cost-per-credit of University Connections was able to get Leuthold involved in MSU Billings, the diversity of classes and the relationships she made with faculty increased her enthusiasm.  While she was not treated any differently than any other college student at MSU Billings, Leuthold said she was able to get individualized attention when she needed it.


She was able to complete many of her academic foundations courses — the required core of study for students at MSU Billings — while still in high school. A little fewer than half of the 32 credits were earned through online classes, which fit perfectly with her busy schedule.


“The English and writing classes were my favorites,” she said. “And I really liked the professors who were flexible and willing to work with me. Being relatable made all the difference.”


Even though her high school days are behind her, she remains an avid supporter of the University Connections program and will be a staunch advocate among friends, acquaintances and high school counselors.


“Any student I know I try to encourage them to do it,” she said. “It was very effective for me.”


For more information about University Connections at MSU Billings, contact the office of New Student Services at 657-2888.